Radio Golf, August Wilson's final play — and the conclusion of his Century Cycle series — is perhaps his most complex. With its references to other characters in other plays (especially Gem of the Ocean, the "first" play of the series but the penultimate one written), the 2005 drama could use annotations. The moral conflicts are also more nuanced. Good, bad, right, wrong — all have shadings of meaning that some of the characters never do understand.
It's quite a task the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. has undertaken (in the process becoming the first company to produce the Cycle in a decade, in the order of the New York productions). Veteran African-American director Eileen J. Morris, of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas, returns to town for a solid exposition of Wilson's first and only portrait of the black middle class.
It's 1997. What does success mean for a prosperous, ambitious African American? Money? The prestige of political office? Acceptance on the golf course and in the board room? A rejection of the past and its painful memories? Harmond Wilks and Roosevelt Hicks begin as business partners in a promising plan to reinvigorate the Hill District. But the former, predestined to be "in harm's way," discovers that finding himself and finding success are mutually exclusive.
PPTCo's artistic director Mark Clayton Southers takes center stage as the hero, an intrinsically powerful man who has always strived to do what's "right." And it's his tragedy to find how necessary it is to define that concept and stick to it. Southers credibly portrays the confusion of Wilks' mental and moral journey, and the triumph of realizing his core beliefs. Not exactly the villain of the piece, Art Terry's smooth-talking, amoral Roosevelt is the suit-and-tie successor to a long line of Wilsonian slick con men. Chrystal Bates personifies the Ebony ideal as the polished professional and Harm's much-tried wife.
Doing serious scenery-chewing — even literally eating an orange — is Kevin Brown in the Wilsonian mystic/shaman role. Company stalwart Wali Jamal also gets in some good speeches, as well as a few digs at what "Negro" success and "progress" may mean.